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Showmanship and skill at Lin's Hibachi in Havre de Grace

The food is fabulous but the wait staff needs to step it up

By Kit Waskom Pollard, For The Baltimore Sun

7:05 PM EST, March 4, 2014

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In the world of Japanese steakhouses, showing off is everything. Cleavers are tossed, fires started, food thrown at the mouths of eager diners. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but we think all the drama and laughter make for a great time.

At Lin's Hibachi, which opened in Havre de Grace in early February, the showmanship was on point, though service from the background crew — those not directly involved with the cooking — faltered occasionally. But thanks to food that was both nicely cooked and delivered with a laugh, dinner at Lin's was a satisfying blast.

Scene & Decor Our first clue that dinner at Lin's would be a spectacle came even before we walked in the door. The restaurant's owners, the Lin family, spent more than $1 million on the decoration of the space. And that money is all on display.

We were greeted by two large stone lions flanking the entrance and, just inside, an enormous jade sculpture of a boat, but that was just a start. Water-filled walls were backlit and bubbling. An enormous fish presided over the bar. Crystal chandeliers dotted the ceiling, which was tricked out with colored LED lighting. It was really something to behold.

Even on a Tuesday night, Lin's was busy. When we arrived, around 6:30, we sat right away and didn't have to wait too long for our table to fill, so the cooking could begin (10 diners sat around each grill). When we left, about an hour and a half later, all eight hibachi tables were filled, as were about half the tables in the non-hibachi side of the restaurant.

The crowd was a good one — lively and laughing — and refreshingly diverse, a mix of ages, ethnicities and sartorial choices. Small-town hibachi is, apparently, the cuisine that appeals to all demographics.

Appetizers Lin's menu covers many bases, from sushi to teriyaki. Though we did spot a diner or two ordering sushi as a prelude to their hibachi extravaganza, we stuck with the tried-and-true classics on the hibachi menu.

For everyone at the table, the meal started with a steaming bowl of savory miso soup and a crunchy iceberg salad doused in ginger dressing. The salad's dressing was creamier and less spicy than some versions we've tried. We missed the intense ginger flavor some dressings bring, though many people will prefer Lin's milder version.

Entrees As we ate our appetizers, the show began. Our chef lit the grill and went through his routine, showing off with tricks like the flaming onion ring volcano and rapid-fire zucchini tossing (some of us caught most of the zucchini in our mouths; others took a few bites to the forehead).

We tried the lobster and chicken ($24.95) and steak and shrimp ($22.95) combination dinners. The chef did a nice job with both meat and seafood, seasoning them well and cooking them to order. No overcooked lobster or undercooked chicken made it to our plates.

The standard sides — fried rice and a vegetable medley, plus a couple stray shrimp — were also nicely prepared.

Dipping sauces are a big part of the hibachi restaurant experience. Lin's serves two with each meal: a sweet and spicy ginger and a creamy, mayonnaise-based "yum-yum" sauce. Both were palate pleasers.

Drinks Lin's cocktail list is cheery and bright, filled with options like the Ginger Pear ($8.50), a sweet, light and easy-to-drink combination of pear vodka, ginger ale and cranberry juice.

Service The cocktail was small and we were drink-less before the entrees were ready. Trying to catch the eye of a waiter — or anyone — to take a new drink order exposed Lin's one weakness: service.

Our initial orders were taken by one waiter and entrees were delivered, of course, by the chef. The original waiter delivered soup, salads and drinks, then all but disappeared.

Though numerous staff members milled around, they neglected to check to see if we needed new drinks or if anything was missing (our table was one sauce short of a full supply).

Dessert That lack of attention was especially noticeable when we ordered dessert. We placed our order, paid our bill then finally got dessert. The partially melted scoop of chocolate ice cream, dipped in tempura batter and fried ($5), was tasty but maybe not worth the wait.

Those glitches, though, were overshadowed by the food, the space and the chef, who flipped knives in the air with the greatest of ease. We might have been thirsty but at least we were dazzled.


Lin's Hibachi

Back story: The Lin family, longtime owners of China Kitchen in Havre de Grace, opened Lin's Hibachi in a Pulaksi Road shopping center in early February. With eight hibachi grills, plus a full menu including a variety of Japanese foods, the restaurant covers the bases for Japanese dining.

Parking: Lot in front

Signature dish: Lin's Hibachi offers a variety of Japanese cuisine but if you don't mind group interaction, hibachi is the way to go. You won't want to miss the chefs' skillful (and funny) demonstrations. Splurge on lobster with steak or shrimp; the sweet meat is doused with lemon and cooked until springy and tender.

TVs: Nine

Where: 1007 Pulaski Highway, Havre de Grace

Contact: 410-939-2888

Open: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

Credit Cards: All major

Reservations: Accepted

Bottom line: With dramatic decor and skilled chefs, Lin's Hibachi delivers the quintessential Japanese steakhouse experience.